Young people and sexual health: Keep talking, teaching and learning

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment. Dr Abu-Rajab blogs for PINS.


As a doctor working in sexual health I have been seeing young people in sexual health clinics for almost 20 years, yet I am still regularly surprised and often a bit saddened in their knowledge of their own bodies and of their understanding and enjoyment of sex.

Frequently young people come into the clinic but can’t explain why they are there or what is wrong as they are so embarrassed. Often people decline being examined for the same reason. Here are some of the situations or things that young people have said that give some insight as to why it is so important to talk, to teach, to discuss, to learn. When asked if they had seen or felt any new lumps on their genitals I have been told: I can’t even look down there let alone touch myself. And I am asked questions like: Which hole does his ‘dick’ even go in? Is it the same one that I pee out of? Do you actually blow when you give someone a blowjob?

Based on this I thought it would be useful to write down a few things that I think it would be useful to know, things to perhaps discuss when you have the opportunity with a young person:

  • They need to understand what their bodies look like, what is normal for them and to be able to accurately name their body parts.
  • They should be able to speak to their partners about what they are doing together, what they like and don’t like.
  • That sex is supposed to be enjoyable and what they can do when it is not.
  • Many young females report having anal sex rather than vaginal sex. This may be to avoid pregnancy; it may be because it has been ‘glamorized’ in pornography. However it is often more painful with the increased risk of STI transmission if there is trauma. Young people need to have the confidence to discuss what they like and want with their partners.

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment.

It is important for young people to know what sexual health clinics offer and what to expect if they have to visit a clinic. Sexual health clinics provide contraception, testing and treatment for STIs, emergency contraception (as do pharmacies) and vaccination for Hepatitis and HPV infection. Sexual health clinics will see young people aged 13 and over. Most of the clinics have specific services for young people so there are only young people attending when they are there. Some clinics allow you to drop-in at certain times of the day and some require you to make an appointment which can be done online or by telephone.

Each of the health boards in Scotland have their own sexual health clinic websites. Some services also use:

  • Informative apps with sexual health advice and clinic information.
  • Apps that are for condom delivery by post.
  • Social media giving information on clinics, local outbreaks etc.
  • Online facilities where people can ask questions.

Get to know what is available in your own area so you can let your young people know about them and do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions.


Dr Abu-Rajab is Consultant Genitourinary and HIV Medicine Clinical Director for Sexual Health and HIV, NHS Forth Valley

Twitter: @NHSForthValley

*COVID19 update: As we publish, sexual health services are currently only providing urgent care. Young people or support staff can phone a local sexual health service to check what they are currently providing and how best to access support and information. More information and booking can be found here: https://www.nhsinform.scot/care-support-and-rights/nhs-services/sexual-health/sexual-health-services-online-appointments-booking-system

Challenging times for all – but how are our children doing?

In these uncertain times, Children’s Parliament blogs for PINS


“We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”

Member of Children’s Parliament

All our lives have changed very quickly. A lot of adults are in the news and online saying what it is like for them – at Children’s Parliament we want to share how it is for children too. As we try to establish new ways of being in touch with our Members of Children’s Parliament (MCPs) we have been reflecting with them on changing circumstances – the sudden ending of school, loss of contact with friends, for those with care-experience a potential loss of contact with family, for every child the experience of being mostly indoors. So, how are they doing?

For many children there is an immediate sense of loss of the rhythm and security of school life. Children who were nearing the end of primary and secondary school have felt this most keenly. As one MCP parent told us: “She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”. Children are also feeling cut adrift from friends, and as one MCP told us: “I’m ok, just really bored”.

“She missed her final p7 send off, she was so upset about it, it’s like she didn’t really finish primary school”

Parent of Member of Children’s Parliament

For children living with foster or kinship carers there has been a loss of planned contact with parents or other family members. In these circumstances, there can also be concerns about children’s welfare. As one carer told us: “I’m really worried about him, he is so down in his spirits. He’s not been seeing his mum; we are trying to facetime her tomorrow”. From another concerned carer: “She’s stressed though…it happens if she gets out of her routine”.  And as another carer has told us: “They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day. They usually have supervised contact with dad, but it needs to be supervised, I’m not that great with technology though”.

“They missed out on their contact time because it was cancelled, but we’ve managed to set up WhatsApp and they had some facetime with their mum the other day.

Carer of Member of Children’s Parliament

Of course, much of the ‘new’ ways we need to do things will be with technology. At Children’s Parliament we are exploring the access needs for our children in order to keep in touch with us, but also of course to connect with learning, friends and fun activities. The reality is that some children do not have what they need. For one child whose family circumstances have changed the reality is: “We don’t have carpets yet, we don’t have internet and the TV doesn’t work all the time”.

Children’s Parliament workers are being told by parents and carers that they have real concerns about their child’s health, access to exercise and worries about keeping to routines, especially when it comes to sleep and access to gaming. Many families do not have access to gardens that are safe and secure and are struggling to put in place boundaries around their child being online. These struggles are particularly acute for families with a child with additional support needs or disabilities.

We also hear about parents and carers and children doing their best – and mucking in together. From one carer: “I’ve the cleanest cupboards in the world!  He’s been cleaning everything, and if he gets too bored, he asks for another cupboard to clean”. 

Finally, with school closures comes the need to address how children can access education. Local Authorities are working out how best to staff and organise learning, but for many of our MCPs – who were possibly already struggling to engage with school and learning – there are real concerns about how they will engage with any new model of educational delivery. Having said that, what is becoming ever clearer to Children’s Parliament staff is that our teaching colleagues, who have love and nurture at the heart of their practice, are tireless in their efforts to make sure the children they care about are happy, healthy and safe. These are just some early reflections. In the coming days we will launch a blog space where children will talk about their experience of the pandemic. With our How are you doing? (bit.ly/Coronavirus_Kids) survey and the reflections from our team of MCP bloggers, we will be capturing and sharing experiences and insights from children. It is vital at this time that we acknowledge and learn from children and work together to best understand and continue to consciously do our best to protect and enhance their human rights and wellbeing. Now, more than ever, we need to make children’s rights real.

Stay safe and keep well,
Children’s Parliament


www.childrensparliament.org.uk/children-and-coronavirus


Twitter: @Creative_Voices

Supporting schools to address health and wellbeing needs

The Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE)

SHINE Network Manager Dawn Haughton blogs for PINS.  


The Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE) provides a national infrastructure to support schools in addressing their health and wellbeing needs, with a focus on mental health, by using a data-driven, systems-level approach to health improvement.

SHINE is a research project funded by the Medical Research Council Mental Health Data Pathfinder Award led by Professor Daniel Smith at the University of Glasgow and is a collaboration between the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. Our membership has grown steadily to include 131 schools, spread across all 32 Local Authorities in Scotland and comprising secondary, primary, special and independent schools – everyone is welcome and, due to our funding, all SHINE resources, membership and events for schools are currently free.

In line with the National Improvement Framework 2020 document recommendations, SHINE offers schools support with improved data analysis and the use of data to inform planning for improvement. Through our partnership with the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey, SHINE provides Scottish schools with up-to-date health and wellbeing data reports to facilitate targeted improvement planning in health and wellbeing. SHINE schools who participated in the 2018 HBSC data collection have been provided with school-level data reports focusing on mental health, social media use, bullying and cyberbullying, healthy eating and sleep health. Schools who didn’t participate in the survey received reports with data from the schools in their Regional Improvement Collaborative. The HBSC data contains valuable insights into the health and wellbeing of children and young people aged 11, 13, 15 years, from the nationally representative sample of 5,286 pupils who participated in 2018 survey.

We are currently conducting case studies in 4 Local Authorities to evaluate how schools have used their HWB report so far and to discuss how we can develop and further improve this resource in collaboration with pupils, teachers, senior leaders, key stakeholders and local authorities. Early feedback has been extremely positive with evident appreciation of the comprehensive range of questions asked in the survey, the clear, accessible and informative presentation of the report format, the gender split in the data graphs and the benchmarking against the regional collaborative data. Schools are using the data reports in a variety of ways:

  • to prioritize topics for inclusion in the PSE curriculum
  • to inform the school improvement plan
  • as the baseline for tracking and monitoring in health and wellbeing
  • to involve the wider school community in health and wellbeing action planning and responsibility.

We have used this feedback to inform the development of an online pupil mental health survey, which schools can use to track and monitor mental health in their school. Other surveys are planned on sleep, social media, school environment. This can be used with as many pupils as the school wishes with pupils aged between P6 and S6. The data is analysed by SHINE and fed back in a brief report in similar format to the initial health and wellbeing data reports. The aim is to empower the wider school community to use their own evidence to drive forward positive change

In addition, we have an annual network conference in May to facilitate the sharing of good practice in using data and research findings effectively across the national network. We offer our members the opportunity to interact with eminent health researchers through webinars on topics such as sleep and suicide and self-harm in young people. SHINE has released a series of research briefings to schools and invited schools to be involved in research projects, for example a feasibility study of sleep and mood in schoolchildren that makes use of wrist-worn actigraphs.Schools are still welcome to join the network as we continue to develop. If you would like further information about SHINE or the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, please click on the links below. If you have specific questions, please contact the SHINE Network Manager at Dawn.Haughton@glasgow.ac.uk


The Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE)

The Mental Health Data Pathfinder Award

www.hbsc.org


Twitter: @ScotlandShine